Springtime Storylines: Have Toronto Blue Jays brought in enough help for Jose Bautista?

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2012 season. Up next: The Toronto Blue Jays.

The Big Question: Have the Jays brought in enough help for Jose Bautista?

Several times this spring I was asked “can Jose Bautista do it again?”  The “it” being doing something like hitting 40-50 homers and leading the majors in OPS again. My answer has been “well, maybe, but if he has to do that, the Jays are screwed.”

And the thing is, he doesn’t have to do that. He has to be a great slugger in the middle of the lineup, but the plan in Toronto right now depends less on him being an MVP-caliber player again and more on some guys with good track records and/or promise, simply living up to their reputations and/or expectations. I’m talking about the additions from last season in Adam Lind, Kelly Johnson and Colby Rasmus.

Rasmus is two years removed from an .859 OPS season that had him pegged as a future megastar. Lind hit 35 homers three years ago. That same year Johnson hit 26 homers and had an .865 OPS.  While that is probably on the outer edges of Lind and Johnson’s abilities, the point here is that all three of these guys have the potential to be solid — or in Rasmus’ case more than solid — complementary pieces to a Bautista-led lineup.  And that’s before you even get to Brett Lawrie, who we’ll discuss more below.

The point here is that there is a bit of a lightning-in-a-bottle element to the Jays this season, but it’s not comprised of a bunch of unreasonable risks and expectations. In the AL East things always have to break just right. The Jays are counting on that too, but the plan this year seems decidedly less pipe-dreamish than usual. I like the looks of this team.

So what else is going on?

  • Rasmus, Lind and Johnson aside, Brett Lawrie could be the real key here. After his August call-up, he hit .293/.373/.580 with nine homers and seven stolen bases in 43 games. Everyone is talking about Bryce Harper as the brash, powerful young stud about to take over the game. Lawrie is already ahead of him on all of that.
  • The rotation is worrisome. Rickey Romero is coming off his best season and looks like a solid top-of-the-rotation guy. Brandon Morrow is always interesting and, if he can put it together, could be ace-like as well. Beyond that it’s shaky, with Brett Cecil, Dustin McGowan — who, not surprisingly, is hurt — and Henderson Alvarez. I have this feeling that the Jays will be one of those teams who are rumored to be in the market for a starter all season long.
  • Speaking of McGowan, why on Earth did he get a contract extension after missing most of three years? I thought the Jays, coming off of two of the all-time epic salary dumps in the form of Vernon Wells and Alex Rios, would have learned not to do silly things like this. Yes, I know it’s low money, but c’mon.
  • The back of the bullpen looks different. In comes Sergio Santos, who struck out 92 batters in 63 and a third innings last season. He was actually with the Jays during his days as an infielder. Also in comes Darren Oliver who had a fantastic season last year. He never played for the Blue Jays, but he actually pitched in the majors the last time the Jays won the World Series. That’s not quite a Jamie Moyer fact, but it is something.

So how are they gonna do?

If things break right — and it’s a lot of things — they could challenge 90 wins and be in the wild card conversation all year. But I worry about that rotation. Unless it’s upgraded — or unless a couple of guys greatly exceed expectations — this looks to once again be the best fourth place team in baseball.

If 2020 season is cancelled, which teams would be hurt the most?

Mookie Betts
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MLB commissioner Rob Manfred recently expressed his optimistic outlook, saying that he hoped the league would begin “gearing back up” in May. That would put a regular season return potentially at the end of June or at some point in July. He expressed that the league may have to get creative, likely referring to ideas like playing doubleheaders, extending the season deep into fall, and playing some games at neutral parks in warm-weather areas.

Manfred isn’t the only one champing at the bit for a return to normalcy. President Trump recently said he wanted to “open” the economy back up by Easter, meaning that our social isolation plan could be done in two weeks. And, frankly, I’m sure many of us are starting to become a little stir-crazy as we attempt to flatten the curve.

It’s hard to imagine life returning to normal when Coronavirus (COVID-19) is really starting to spread in the United States. It would be ill-advised for us to go back to business as usual. This is a time when we need to put other interests ahead of business interests. Frankly, there’s a very real possibility that there is no MLB season in 2020. Or, at the very least, there may be a point when Manfred has to choose between starting a season or protecting the health of the players and coaches, journalists, fans, and all of the many people that would interact with them and potentially become vectors for the virus.

In the event the 2020 season is cancelled, which teams stand to lose the most? Let’s take a look at some contenders.

Los Angeles Dodgers

The most obvious of the bunch. The club swung a deal with the Red Sox a month and a half ago to acquire the 2018 AL MVP along with David Price in exchange for Alex Verdugo, Connor Wong, and Jeter Downs. Betts was a huge upgrade to an already potent Dodger roster, one which won 106 games during the regular season last year.

Betts, however, is a free agent after the 2020 season. MLB owners and the MLBPA reached an agreement last week stating that, if there is no season, players would still get credit for a full year of service time. If the season is canceled, the Dodgers very well may have given up three good young players and taken on a lot of salary for basically nothing. They’ll get to keep Price, who is under contract for two more years after this, but that’s no consolation.

The Dodgers also have some other important players potentially hitting free agency after the 2020 season: Justin Turner, Kiké Hernández, Joc Pederson, and Pedro Báez.

Cincinnati Reds

The Reds had a better 2019 campaign than their 75-87 record indicated. They finished in fifth place from 2015-18 before last year’s fourth place finish. The club acquired Sonny Gray from the Yankees before the season and picked up Trevor Bauer from the Indians at the trade deadline. Eugenio Suárez, Aristides Aquino, and Michael Lorenzen were among a handful of players who shone brightly as well.

As a result of a roster on the come-up, the Reds bolstered the roster even more, picking up free agents Nick Castellanos and Mike Moustakas. The Reds signed both players to four-year deals, so they will still be around when baseball eventually resumes, even if it’s next year, but Moustakas will be 32 and Castellanos will be 29. It’s a pretty big deal to miss 25 percent of their contracts in what are, on average, the seasons likeliest to be their best.

Bauer, by the way, can become a free agent after the season. That’s a pretty big deal, too.

Philadelphia Phillies

The Phillies were supposed to be competitive last year, but they fell a bit flat, finishing exactly at .500 with an 81-81 record. GM Matt Klentak continued to bolster the roster a year after inking Bryce Harper to what was then the richest contract in baseball history (13 years, $330 million). This past offseason, he signed Zack Wheeler to a five-year, $118 million deal. They also added Didi Gregorius on a one-year deal.

This is a team meant to be an NL East contender in 2020, to finally reach the postseason which it hasn’t done since 2011. If the season is cancelled, that’s one very valuable year out of its window completely gone. That is even more the case upon realizing that catcher J.T. Realmuto, arguably the best player at his position in baseball right now, is a free agent going into 2021. The two sides have discussed a contract extension, but that was tabled as of two weeks ago.

The Phillies haven’t had stability at the catcher position since Carlos Ruiz in the early- to mid-2010’s. They do have some catchers among their top-30 prospects, according to MLB Pipeline, in Deivy Grullon, Rafael Marchan, and Rodolfo Duran, but none of them are J.T. Realmuto. Realmuto is a guy you want to keep around if possible, especially considering the scarcity of his caliber of talent at that position.

. . .

This is a partial list, so this is not to say that teams omitted would not suffer at all from a lost season. You can see the factors that determine whether or not a team has a lot at stake this year: splashy trades, free agent signings, stars potentially becoming free agents after the season, etc.

In general, every team would be devastated by a lost season not just due to the lost development time or the loss of an attempt to win a championship, but because of lost revenues. This is going to have a ripple effect through the baseball economy. Teams will likely become less active in the free agent market, to name one of many potential effects.